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DISC: A Layman's Guide
What is DISC?
Video: Introduction to DISC
DISC Profile Interpretations
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Personality Types
Applications: Putting DISC to Work
Validity and Reliability of DISC
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While we can analyse individual behavioural profiles en masse to provide an overall picture of a team's likely performance, its everyday functioning is more closely affected by individual relationships within the team. An understanding of the ways that individual members interact with one another can be crucial to developing a clear picture of the way the team works, especially on a short- to medium-term basis. We use the term 'relationship' here exclusively to describe bilateral interactions (that is, interactions between two individual team members). Most interactions within the team will take place in such a bilateral manner, or can be considered in these terms. There are exceptions, however, especially those situations in which one member (usually the leader) addresses all the other members of the group. In these situations, the likely actions and reactions of the team are better considered in more general terms.

When analysing an individual relationship between two members, the key concept is that of the dynamic, a concept that describes a specific element of the relationship. In the rest of this section, we'll consider how dynamics work, and how they can be used to build a picture of the ways in which a relationship can be expected to operate.

Note that an understanding of the way dynamics work is to some extent dependent on a grounding in the basic principles of DISC theory. If you are new to DISC, you may wish to review, especially, the contents of the DISC Factors & Sub-traits section of this site.

Introduction to Dynamics

A dynamic is a basic unit of interaction, derived by examining a combination of two DISC profiles. The number of dynamics within a given relationship is not fixed, but is instead dependent on the complexity of the individual profiles. Some rare combinations yield no dynamics at all, while the maximum number is twelve, for each profile being considered.

To derive dynamics from a combination of profiles, we look at the high and low factors that appear in each of the two individual profiles. For example, if one profile shows a high Dominance score, and the other a low Steadiness score, then the dynamic 'High Dominance to Low Steadiness' appears in the relationship (usually written 'D>s' for short).

Because the behaviours associated with each DISC factor are known, it is possible to interpret the ways in which the two factors (one from each profile) will interact with one another. This analysis gives us a basis for interpretation of one element of the relationship.

Applying the principle of dynamics to a real relationship within a real team provides some useful insights into the ways in which the two members concerned will interact with one another. By examining each factor on each profile individually, we can construct a list of all the dynamics that bear upon that particular relationship and use this to gain an understanding of the actions and reactions of each of the two individuals.

There are a total of sixty-four possible dynamics, of which up to twenty-four can appear in a given relationship between two individuals (though this is rare).

Because the calculation of dynamics works through an examination of the high and low factors in two profiles, it is necessary that both profiles contain at least one high or low factor. Dynamics cannot, then, be generated where one or both of the profiles under consideration is 'compressed' (that is, all the factors lie near the centre of the profile, and none can be considered to be high or low). The same situation applies in reality as well as theory: it is difficult to predict how a member with a 'compressed' profile will react within a relationship, and so we cannot reliably attempt to produce an analysis in this situation.

It is important to remember that dynamics have a direction associated with them. They describe the relationship from the point of view of one or other of the members involved. To clarify, consider the High Dominance to Low Steadiness (D>s) dynamic we have already discussed. This describes an aspect of the relationship from specifically the point of view of the highly Dominant member. To see how the other member (with low Steadiness) viewed the relationship we would need to consider the opposite of this dynamic, Low Steadiness to High Dominance (s>D) which would yield a different perspective.

This is an important point to bear in mind. Often, the two individuals concerned have different (sometimes very different) subjective views of their relationship with one another. It is necessary to look at dynamics from both sides to reach an understanding of the way the relationship works.

The exception to this occurs where the factors involved in the dynamic are identical (for example, the dynamic that occurs between to members with high Compliance scores, C>C). In this specific case, the dynamic is 'symmetrical', and both members view the relationship in essentially the same way.

Before we move on to look at some examples of relationship dynamics in practical use, it is important to point out the limitation of this approach. Dynamics are a powerful tool in discovering the underlying behavioural workings of relationship, but they cannot take account of factors outside this area. Working relationships are necessarily affected by conditions outside behaviour per se. This applies especially with regard to past actions - members' views of one another will necessarily be coloured by each other's previous activities and decisions, whether good or bad. While the underlying behavioural factors remain, such external considerations cannot be interpreted through the concept of the dynamic.

Examples of Dynamics

The easiest way to understand how dynamics work in practice is to consider some practical examples. Here, we will look at some of the more common dynamics, and see how it is possible to extract useful information from them regarding the relationship to which they apply.

The standard dynamic notation, incidentally, simply uses capital letters to denote high factors, and lower-case letters to signify low factors. So, for example, 'S>S' would reflect a dynamic between two highly Steady individuals, while 'c>c' indicates a dynamic between two individuals who share low Compliance.

Remember that there are a total of sixty-four possible dynamics. The examples shown here demonstrate only a few of the more common manifestations found in working teams.

D>D (Two Highly Dominant Members)

This is a common relationship dynamic in a team showing high Direction, and is most often seen in teams related to sales or higher-level management, as Dominance is a factor closely associated with each of these roles.

Dominant individuals are controlling, demanding and assertive in nature. They rarely refuse a challenge, and are motivated by their own success. If we consider how two such individuals would relate to one another, we will have a basic interpretation of the D>D dynamic.

It is clear that the competitive element of the Dominance factor will have a significant effect on the workings of this relationship. Each member is likely to see the other's demanding approach as in some sense providing a challenge, and can be expected to rise to this perceived challenge.

There is potential here, then, for conflict and confrontation, especially if the two members see their goals as incompatible. However, this combination can also be highly productive if the competitive natures of the two members are focused correctly.

We can see such focussing at work, for example, in a competitive direct sales team (those working in such conditions very commonly have high Dominance as a significant aspect of their profiles). The competitive urges and the need for challenge inherent in the members' styles are focused on achieving goals that benefit the group as a whole (high sales targets, in this example, with their attendant rewards).

D>C (High Dominance to High Compliance)

This dynamic represents another aspect of relationships commonly found within a team. We have already seen that Dominance relates to competitive, assertive and controlling behaviour. Where Compliance occurs in a profile, it shows a reluctance to take risk and a need for certainty, together with a concern for quality and precision.

A further important distinction here is that Dominance is an assertive factor. It relates to a willingness to take direct action, while Compliance is passive, meaning that the individual concerned tends to be reluctant to take direct action, and instead prefers to follow the direction of others. This will clearly have an effect on the relationship between these two individuals.

It is likely, then, that the Dominant member will take the lead in this relationship, and the Compliant member will adopt a more responsive attitude, following the lead set by their more assertive colleague.

Note that we say 'likely'. The dynamic we are considering here is only one component of the relationship between the two individuals. We can be sure that the effect of this assertive-passive combination will have an effect on the relationship, but the precise nature of this effect will depend on other dynamics that may be present. Our highly Compliant member, for example, may also have a high Dominance score in his profile - in this case, the same effects that we discussed under the 'D>D' dynamic above would also have a bearing on the relationship.

The D>C dynamic gives us an opportunity to see how aspects of a relationship can be viewed differently by each individual concerned. Because a Dominant style confers an interest in control, and the Compliant individual shows themselves as prepared to accept this, the Dominant member will often assume that they in some sense 'control' the relationship.

It is true that, should the Dominant member issue an instruction, the more Compliant member would likely obey it. From the Compliant individual's perspective, though, the instruction is obeyed simply because this is more convenient and less troublesome than not obeying it. Compliant styles strongly dislike confrontation, for example, and will normally choose a course of action that will avoid this.

One member, then, sees themselves as dominating this relationship, but the other does not acknowledge this, and is simply following the most convenient approach. This is not to say that one is wrong and the other right (such terms do not apply in this context), but simply that each holds beliefs that the other does not share.

Differences of perspective like this are of more than theoretical interest. They can have a very real effect. For example, imagine a situation in which our Dominant member issues an instruction with which their Compliant colleague very strongly disagrees. The Compliant member would see no reason why they should not simply refuse this instruction. Such a refusal, though, would seem extraordinary and highly unreasonable to the Dominant member, and would inevitably cause difficulties within the relationship, and the team itself.

An awareness of differing individual perspectives, then, can help to pre-empt and defuse situations of this kind before they occur.

I>I (Two Highly Influential Members)

Influence describes elements of the personality such as friendliness, expressiveness and openness, in both social and emotional terms. Individuals showing high Influence in their profiles are normally talkative and informal, and greatly value the overt approval or attention of those around them.

This desire for attention is the key to an understanding of a relationship involving the 'I>I' dynamic. Each of the two members will be looking for the other to listen to their ideas and to provide positive feedback. Where the two members concerned are able to balance each other's need for attention (for example, where they share common aims or interests), then this aspect of their relationship is likely to friendly and motivating for each of them.

What may not be obvious in this situation, though, is that there is still a kind of competition in operation - a competition for attention. If this is to be a positive working relationship of the kind described above, it is imperative that each of the individuals involved feels that they are receiving appropriate levels of attention from the other.

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